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Living For The City

Developing Smart Growth leadership in Detroit

March 17, 2004 | By Charlene Crowell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service


A. Spencer Barefield, a renowned jazz guitarist, performs at the Detroit Montreux Jazz Festival, which has attracted 750,000 people over the Labor Day weekend since 1980.

Many of the voices raised last year during deliberations of Governor Jennifer Granholm’s Michigan Land Use Leadership Council spoke to rural and suburban concerns. While every citizen’s voice should be heard, it was the noticeable lack of urban voices that led to Living For The City, a unique partnership between the Detroit Branch NAACP and the Michigan Land Use Institute. 

Recognizing Detroit as Michigan’s largest and most important city, as well as home to a majority of the state’s African American residents, Living For The City will identify and quantify the Motor City’s challenges and opportunities in three areas of concern: Housing, public transit, and race relations. The project’s primary goals are to explain how these issues influence patterns of urban and suburban development and to establish a firmer base of Smart Growth knowledge among African American leaders.

Living For The City is funded by the People and Land project, a program of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. People and Land grew out of the Kellogg Foundation’s interest in preserving Michigan’s rural and agricultural heritage and exploring how farm and rural populations can connect with other partners to address the monumental consequences of how land is used in this state. 

Living For The City is holding a series of stakeholder meetings that will be summarized in the fall in a published report that documents what Detroit residents, business leaders, and elected officials envision for their city. The report also will offer public policy recommendations to the city, the Granholm administration, and the Legislature that are based on the sum of the discussions, research, and shared ideas.

Big Goals
The project’s key goals are:

  • Citizen Education— Help citizen leaders understand the importance of land-use issues in their lives so they can develop a vision for their future and the way their land can best be used to realize that vision.
  • Leadership Development — Help legislators and local leaders learn more about land-use issues and policy so they can help lead state and local community discussion. Promote collaborative partnerships among organizations with common goals.
  • Support Informed Change — Examine and remove the policies and practices that prevent thoughtful use of our natural resources. Identify local experts who can provide information and assistance on best practices via public forums and media.
    Adept Partners Living For The City joins two of the state’s best-known advocacy organizations, the Detroit Branch NAACP and the Michigan Land Use Institute. 

Nowhere in the nation has the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909, been more visible or stronger than in Detroit. Chartered by the national organization in 1912, the Detroit Branch has won landmark cases against housing discrimination and segregated schools. Its community activism also encourages consumers to patronize businesses that value minority purchasing power, job creation, and support the expansion of black-owned businesses. Additionally, the NAACP’s long-range strategic plan specifically calls for continued training and expanded public policy advocacy. With 50,000 adult, youth and corporate members, the Detroit Branch NAACP annually hosts the Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner, the Motor City’s largest banquet. This sell-out event of 10,000 guests, held each spring, provides significant financial support for scholarships, the Art/Essay contest, Youth Entrepreneurship Institute, and many other local programs.  

The Michigan Land Use Institute, founded in Benzie County in 1995, has helped farmers and business owners, environmentalists and industrialists, urban leaders and suburban homeowners discover common ground in the hard work of halting sprawl. The Institute is one of the largest state-based environmental and land use policy and advocacy organizations in the nation. Our growing staff of 14 first-rate journalists, grassroots organizers, and technical specialists is deployed statewide from four offices in Beulah, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, and Lansing. Among the Institute’s many strengths is its nationally prominent news desk, consisting of seven journalists and editors, plus an art director and Web coordinator. The Institute publishes an award-winning Web site, two news services, the Great Lakes Bulletin quarterly magazine, special reports, articles, and brochures.

Charlene Crowell is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Lansing policy specialist who is the Institute’s staff coordinator for the Living For The City project. Reach her at charlene@mlui.org.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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